Wednesday, September 27, 2023


Want to camp for free? All it takes is a little work…

By Nanci Dixon
Ready for your next RV adventure but worried about finding a campsite among the crowd? Are campsite costs going up? Like to work with people and stay active? Consider an amazing job.

My adventurous friend Karen, a solo RVer, did just that for the last two seasons. Karen searched out after her daughter asked a National Park Ranger what was down the road in an off-limit area. The ranger told her that was where the volunteers stay and explained what they do. Her daughter instantly said, “My mom would like that!” Two years later Karen retired from finance, bought an RV, and applied for a volunteer position.

Karen Klein
Karen in her RV

She has had two gigs as a National Park Ranger. The first one was at Cape Hatteras National Seashore in North Carolina as a lighthouse tour guide. One of the requirements was the ability to climb the 257 steps up the lighthouse 4-5 times a day! When Hurricane Dorian struck the coast, she found it was very nice to have her home on wheels and evacuate.

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

The next assignment was across the country at Siuslaw National Forest on the Pacific Coast of Oregon. Karen had grown up in Maine and loved the ocean, so picked places near the ocean in areas she would like to spend time exploring. She said, “The important thing was going somewhere I would enjoy being.” Her advice to others is: “Know yourself and what you enjoy.”

When COVID hit this last season and the parks shut down, she spent her time checking the beach and exploring the area. Animal rescue had not been in the job description but when she spotted what looked like a dead seal and went closer, she found that it was breathing. It was an endangered Guadalupe Fur Seal. Her supervisor asked her to stand guard until the animal rescue team could get there. After several hours the seal shuffled to her, lifted his head, gently laid it against her leg and promptly bit her. Yup, wild animal. The seal was transported to a rescue center in California and hung on for about a week but unfortunately just didn’t make it. Another day she found a very dead whale on the beach. Follow the smell…


Biting Guadalupe Fur Seal

Dead whale on beach

What did she like best about being a ranger? “I enjoyed the people I worked with, being part of a team, learning the history and exploring the area.” The challenges? “Dealing with the public. You have to be flexible, creative, understanding and know when to get someone else involved.”

Being a solo RVer in her Dynamax 24-foot motorhome, she wanted to be in an area where other RV volunteers were near. Being relatively new to RVing, it was important to have other, more experienced RVers around to ask questions and get advice. She felt safe as a solo RVer in both of her positions.

Would she do it again? Absolutely! partners
There is a huge variety of types of volunteer opportunities across the country. How about preventive search and rescue? Or would you want to be a “Living Historian Specialist” at Fort Laramie, Wyoming? You’d get to demonstrate historic weapons, teach others about equestrian skills, music, gardening… plus you’d get to wear a living history costume! Are you good with a computer? Joshua Tree National Park needs a “Media Data Specialist.” Those are all current volunteer opportunities on the website.

Right now there are more than 367 volunteer positions posted. 182 provide RV pads – most with full hookups, a few with partial hookups. You can narrow the search with types of activities ranging from archaeology, botany, campground maintenance, campsite hosts and more. You can also pick the difficultly level, type of agency, start/end dates, and state, with the easy-to-use drop-down menus on the sidebar.

Reviewing the postings, I noticed that the hours/days, job requirements, locations and dates vary widely among listings. The postings are pretty complete, even including information about the RV sites, hookups, distance to get groceries, road conditions and more.

With all the options available, being a National Park Ranger or any of the other volunteer jobs on federal lands sounds like a very rewarding way to spend a season (or more)!


Immerse yourself in nature … Volunteer!

A rewarding way to RV: Volunteer along the way


Nanci Dixon
Nanci Dixon
Nanci Dixon has been a full-time RVer living “The Dream” for the last six years and an avid RVer for decades more! She works and travels across the country in a 40’ motorhome with her husband. Having been a professional food photographer for many years, she enjoys snapping photos of food, landscapes and an occasional person. They winter in Arizona and love boondocking in the desert. They also enjoy work camping in a regional park. Most of all, she loves to travel.


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Mike Sherman
2 years ago

Use caution when volunteering to work in a private campground for free rent. The employer could turn out to be very difficult to work with. Seek out references if possible.

RV Staff
2 years ago
Reply to  Mike Sherman

Excellent and very important point, Mike. Thanks! 🙂 —Diane at

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